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Preserving and Transmitting the Teaching of the Thariqah Alawiyyah: Diasporic Ba’alawi Female Preachers in Contemporary Indonesia


  November 9th 2020

Photo illustration by Afiq Fatah on unsplash.com

On 14 October 2020, the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) and the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) held the third online Wednesday Forum with the topic “Preserving and Transmitting the Teaching of the Thariqah Alawiyyah: Diasporic Ba’alawi Female Preacher in Contemporary Indonesia.” The speaker was Dr. Fatimah Husein, Associate Professor at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta, and Associate Director of ICRS. Her teaching and research interests include inter-religious dialogue, philosophy of religion, and Islam and social media. This presentation was based on the research paper which will be published as journal article early next year. Azis Anwar Fachrudin, staff of CRCS, served as moderator of this forum.

Husein began her presentation with a short personal story about her childhood at Pasar Kliwon, Solo, Central Java as someone of Hadhrami descent. She shared, that at that time, it was not easy for her to join the other (Javanese) kids, because people were so mean to the Arab community. She even remembers, that when he was older, namely in the 1980s, there was a riot in Solo and her grandfather’s house was a target of mass anger at that time. However, apart from this unpleasant experience, Husein also saw one interesting thing in the Hadhrami community, namely their love for academia and their efforts to continue to maintain their spiritual traditions even though they now live far from their homeland in Hadhramaut. There are two major groups of Hadhrami communities in Indonesia, but the focus of Husein in her research is the Ba'alawi group (the children of 'Alawi refering to the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad). This group is identical to the Thariqah Allawiyyah, The Thariqah Alawiah is a famous Sunni Islamic Sufi order founded by Imam Muhammad bin Ali Ba'alawi, entitled Al-Faqih Al-Muqaddam (born in Tarim, Yemen, 574 H/k. 1178 AD, and died 653 H/k. 1256 AD). Two salient features, namely spirituality and genealogy, become the main foci of this thariqah. The text and ritual which imitate the prophetic piety and prescribed by Sadah whose lineage traces to the Prophet Muhammad distinguishes this tariqah with general Islamic teachings.

So far, the method commonly used is in order to preserve the tradition is by celebrating the Haul of Habib Ali. Haul is a tradition of commemorating the death once a year with the aim of praying for the burial expert so that all his acts of worship are accepted by Allah and at the same time commemorating the exemplary lifetime of this commemorated figure. The second way is by sending their children to study to the homeland in Hadhramaut. To ensure the connection with the homeland. These studies are primarily conducted by men, however there are also women who undertake study as well, for instance Dar Al Zahra under the tutelage of Habib Omar bin Hafiz (Umar bin Hafidz). However, in the context of a patrilineal community, Husein has seen that so far the efforts to preserve and transmit the values ​​and teachings of the Allawiyyah Thariqah have been mostly carried out by male Ba'alawi descendants. Many of the male Ba'alawi descendants were sent to Hadharamaut to learn about the spirituality of Tariqah Alawiyyah. Meanwhile Husein finds that within the academic discussion on Indonesian Hadrami diaspora, women's voices are generally silent and have often escaped scholarly attention. This presentation focuses on the changing roles of three contemporary Indonesian Ba'Alawi female preachers, in Jakarta, Surabaya and Solo, in their da'wa (preaching) of the teachings of Thariqah 'Alawiyyah (a Sufi path established by Muhammad bin' Ali ' Alawi (1255). Through ground observations, Husein found that these Indonesian Ba ​​'Alawi females have, to a great extent, been successful in preserving and transmitting the teachings of the thariqah admidst the marginality of Muslim women's voices in the field.

However, in recent developments on Ba'alawi women preachers there were three women who had studied at Hadhramaut and then after returning they carried out da'wa and teaching activities as part of efforts to preserve and transmit the teachings of the Alawiyyah Thariqah, even though they did not directly learn Sufi teachings of Thariqah Alawiyyah as done by male Ba'alawi children. There are three women who are part of this research and are seen as preservers and transmitters of the Alawiyyah Order. The first one is, Ustadzah Halimah Usman Alydrus (43 years old), who after studying at several Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia and also teaching later by her father, she was sent to Hadhramaut to study. Then, after returning from Hadhramaut, Ustadzah Halimah Usman Alydrus began her da’wa activities. Initially she wrote a book entitled Bidadari Bumi Sembilah Kisah Wanita Sholeha. Through this book she emphasizes the importance of piety which is the heart of the Alawiyah Tariqah as she learned in Hadhramaut. Gradually, as her preaching activities developed, she became well known in Indonesia and overseas. Ustadzah Halimah Usman Alydrus even conducts da'wa activities through digital platforms in order to reach the younger generation. To this day, her Facebook page is followed by around 83,000 followers, and her  Instagram has more than 200,000 followers. In addition, Ustadzah Halimah also utilizes the You Tube digital platform to further spread da’wa to the younger generation who is active in the online world.

The second preacher is Ustadzah Khadijah Abdul Qodir Hud Assegaf who was born in 1978. Initially, she studied at a boarding school in Surabaya. After that, in 2016 for a year and a half she went to Hadhramaut and studied at Dar Al Zahra. After returning from Hadhramaut, Ustadzah Khadijah Abdul Qodir Hud Assegaf was also active in preaching. However, she prefers to do offline recitation. Interestingly, nine percent of the recitation participants were Ba'alawi women, meanwhile ten percent were among the general public. As well as teaching in recitation in her own house, Ustadzah Khodijah also teaches at the Islamic boarding school of Madrasah Alkhairiyah Surabaya.

The third preacher, Ustadzah Syifa Muchsin Al Haddad, was born in Solo 1995. Ustadzah Syifa completed her education in Solo. afterwards she continued at the pesantren in Pasuruan for five years. In 2017, she continued her studies at Hadhramaut for one year. Ustadzah Syifa then returned to Indonesia and continued to teach at Diponegoro High School in Solo, as a way of preaching. It is interesting that although Ustadzah Syifa is considered a millennial from the year of her birth, she chooses not to use social media as a platform for her da’wa, but rather prefers a conventional way of teaching in schools. She focuses on teaching women students of Ba'alawi descent at the school. Ustadzah Syifa argued that this is the part of preserving and transmitting to the next generation of female Ba'alawi descent. For Ustadzah Syifa, it is not only the work of her father and brother but also her responsibility.

Finally, Fatimah Husein argued that the three examples of women Ba'alawi preachers who took part in preserving and transmitting the teachings of the Alawiyyah Thariqah are interesting because they show that the role of women is also important in preserving and transmitting the teachings of the Thariqah Alawiyyah. It is also interesting to see that in the patrilineal family tradition these three ustadzah were encouraged by their fathers and uncles to study at Hadhramaut (Ustadzah Halimah was pushed by her father, Khadizah was pushed by her uncle). If in the past only men were sent to study at Hadhramaut, it means that now there is an important shift in understanding so that there is also an opportunity for women to become guardians of the tradition. There are still many limitations, but it is clear that the female agency is expanding. Therefore, it can be concluded that Ba'alawi women have succeeded in being an important part of preserving and transmitting the Alawiyyah Thariqah.